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Biden has a Brexit warning for Britain: Don't imperil Northern Irish peace

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U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark Air Force One upon arrival at Cornwall Airport Newquay, near Newquay, Cornwall, Britain June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Air Force One after landing at RAF Mildenhall ahead of the G7 Summit, near Mildenhall, Britain June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US President Joe Biden will bring a grave Brexit warning to his first meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: Prevent a row with the European Union from imperilling the delicate peace in Northern Ireland, write Steve Holland and Guy Faulconbridge.

On his first trip abroad since taking office in January, Biden met Johnson on Thursday (10 June) in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay ahead of a Friday-Sunday (11-13 June) G7 summit, a NATO summit on Monday (14 June), a US-EU summit on Tuesday (15 June) and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva the following day (16 June).

Biden will try to use the trip to burnish his multilateral credentials after the tumult of Donald Trump's presidency, which left many US allies in Europe and Asia bewildered and some alienated.

Biden, though, has an uncomfortable message for Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 Brexit campaign: Stop heated EU divorce negotiations from undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

"President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful co-existence in Northern Ireland," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"Any steps that imperil it or undermine it would not be welcomed by the United States," said Sullivan, who declined to characterise Johnson's actions as imperilling the peace.

Britain's exit from the European Union strained the peace in Northern Ireland to breaking point because the 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets, yet a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland shares a border with EU member Ireland.

Such is Biden's concern over Northern Ireland that Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche - a formal diplomatic reprimand - for "inflaming" tensions, The Times newspaper reported.

Biden will also speak on Thursday about donating more COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries. Read more

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries that killed 3,600 people.

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, will make a statement of principle about the importance of that peace deal, Sullivan said.

"He’s not issuing threats or ultimatums, he’s going to simply convey his deep-seated belief that we need to stand behind and protect this protocol," Sullivan said.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

The EU and Britain tried to solve the border riddle with the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement, which keeps the province in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market.

Pro-British unionists say the Brexit deal that Johnson signed contravenes the 1998 peace deal and London has said the protocol is unsustainable in its current form after supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland were disrupted.

Britain, home to a large Airbus facility, and the European Union are hoping to resolve a nearly 17-year old dispute with the United States over aircraft subsidies to Boeing (BA.N) and Airbus (AIR.PA).

US, British and EU officials have expressed optimism that a settlement can be reached before 11 July, when currently suspended tariffs will come back into force on all sides.

One source close to the negotiations said the discussions were progressing well but a deal was unlikely to be reached before the US-EU summit next week.

Johnson, who wrote a biography of British wartime leader Winston Churchill, will agree with Biden an "Atlantic Charter", modelled on the 1941 deal struck by Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The two leaders will agree to a task force to look at resuming UK-US travel as soon as possible.

Brexit

Ex-EU Brexit negotiator Barnier: UK reputation at stake in Brexit row

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Head of the Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier attendsthe debate on EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement during the second day of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium April 27, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

Michel Barnier, the European Union's former Brexit negotiator, said on Monday (14 June) that the reputation of the United Kingdom was at stake regarding tensions over Brexit.

EU politicians have accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of not respecting engagements made regarding Brexit. Growing tensions between Britain and the EU threatened to overshadow the Group of Seven summit on Sunday, with London accusing France of "offensive" remarks that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK. Read more

"The United Kingdom needs to pay attention to its reputation," Barnier told France Info radio. "I want Mr Johnson to respect his signature," he added.

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Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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Macron offers UK's Johnson 'Le reset' if he keeps his Brexit word

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French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday (12 June) to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union, writes Michel Rose.

Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London's refusal to honour the terms of part of its Brexit deal.

At a meeting at the Group of Seven rich nations in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could improve only if Johnson kept his word on Brexit, a source said.

"The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans," the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.

The Elysee Palace said that France and Britain shared a common vision and common interests on many global issues and "a shared approach to transatlantic policy".

Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the dispute over a part of the EU divorce deal that is called the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.

The protocol aims to keep the province, which borders EU member Ireland, in both the United Kingdom's customs territory and the EU's single market. But London says the protocol is unsustainable in its current form because of the disruption it has caused to supplies of everyday goods to Northern Ireland.

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